Technical Writing ToolBox

A Blog on Technical Writing

How to write a Technical Autobiography?

Technical Autobiography of Nikola Tesla

When I joined Seneca College (Post Grad) Certificate in Technical Communication, the first (informal) writing assignment we received was to write a technical autobiography (worth 10%) in the TCN700 (Technical Writing I) class.

Wait, I hear you saying that the term ‘technical’ and ‘autobiography’ don’t go well together. You are in good company as most of us in the class at that moment thought on similar lines. It was only when our dear professor explained the concept of technical autobiography when we understood how important it is for a writing student.

Before joining this course, I had worked as a technical/business/web-copy writer for eight long years and had done almost all types of writing assignment. However, this assignment took me (and most people in our class) by a surprise. I was at ease about writing on other products in the form of user guides, online help, brochures or sales copy. However, writing about your own life is very different from writing about a product or a person.

Let’s see, except for our ‘Resume’, where else do we talk about our own self? I felt a bit hesitant to write about myself and felt as if the mirror turned inwards and I could see my life in a different view. It was, however, a very satisfying writing exercise. Perhaps the most satisfying writing exercise I ever did. If you haven’t ever written any type of autobiography, I’d strongly recommend doing it and see yourself in a different light.

Three Types of Autobiography

Let’s look at three different types of autobiographies:

1. An autobiography is an account of a person’s life written by that person. It is a narrative that tells a story of your own life.

2. A technical autobiography or a technology autobiography is a story that describes your life experiences with technology. You recall and write about your first encounter with technology, what impact it had on your life and technologies that you fascinate about.

Suggested reading for technical autobiography: Kitalong, Karla, Tracy Bridgeford, Michael Moore, and Dickie Selfe. 2003. “Variations on a Theme: The Technology Autobiography as a Versatile Writing Assignment.”

3. A writing autobiography is a story of your life experiences with writing and learning. Similar to the technology autobiography, it focuses on the experiences you have had with writing and learning.

Michelle Manning from University of Central Florida provides an interesting description about technical autobiography. You can read it here.

How to create an Audio-Visual Technical Autobiography?

This example from youtube (from T. J. Frain) provides an interesting way to create an audio-visual technical autobiography:

Gurpreet’s Technical Autobiography

Our professor asked us to write a technical autobiography in less than 500 words with  a focus on five different dimensions:

1. Writing about our experiences with the technology (from childhood to present).

2. To write about a technology we would like to use/develop in the future.

3. To write about a person we respect for his/her technical knowledge.

4. To explain how we keep ourselves updated with the latest technological trends.

5. To write about use of technology in technical documentation.

Writing about five different sections, by taking instances from your own life, and under just 500 words was a H U G E challenge. However, I found it to be a great writing exercise that I often recommend to other writers.

If you are wondering what my technical autobiography looked like, here it is for your critique. I hope you will be generous enough like my technical writing professor who awarded me a cool ‘A’ for my efforts :

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Technology always appeared to me more as a magic and less as a mere application of science. The reference to the word ‘technology’ brings back sweet memories from my childhood when I received my first video game console, a Nintendo gaming box. I still vividly remember the excitement, adrenaline rush and happiness of the moment when I saw my gaming console for the first time. It seemed nothing short of a magician or a genie that could grant almost unworldly gratification in just push of a button.

A small game cassette used to go inside the box and a new world of excitement used to begin. Mario, Contra, Bomber-Man, Pack-Man were among hundreds of games available in each cassette.

I grew up in a small middle-class residential community located at the west end of New Delhi, the capital of India. My father was a businessman and had a small factory for making light bulbs. I used to work in my dad’s factory during my school breaks. I got exposed to several complex manufacturing machines in the plant which had the best technology of the time though my work area was strictly confined to testing of bulbs (QA), being the safest (and boring) section of the plant.

Later on, my brother joined the workforce and received a pager (text messaging device). Until then, salesmen could not remain in touch with their family and clients but everything changed with pagers. Mobile phones then superseded pagers as a communication device since meaningful conversation could not be successfully accomplished in a mere 240 characters (text message limit of pagers).

I really admire Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, ex-president of India as a technology literate person. Popularly known as the Missile Man, he was instrumental in developing the space programs for India. Born in a poor family, Kalam’s father was a poor fisherman who worked hard to make both ends meet. Kalam used to walk several miles to reach school (he never had the money to take a bus) and even worked as a newspaper delivery man to support his school expenses. Later on, he became one of the most famous presidents of India and was popularly known as People’s president.

I love technology and recently bought an android phone. On my first day of school, I found my class using an android satellite navigation application. I’d love to have more useful applications on my phone.

Technology moves at a fast pace and it is difficult to keep track about many of its aspects. I usually attend seminars, read blogs and listen to eBooks to keep track of the latest happenings in the world of technology.

I love interactive online documentation that can provide useful help based on the correct context. Reading 500 pages of text to discover a five line procedure is overwhelming. Online, context driven and modular help makes life easy!

Have you ever tried to write an autobiography? Was it an emotional exercise for you or did you find it like any other writing assignment? Leave a comment and let me know.

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9 responses to “How to write a Technical Autobiography?

  1. Divya Upadhyay May 29, 2012 at 9:36 pm

    Great post! Technical autobiography is new term for me, and you’ve explained it very well here (along with an example!). I understand how tough it must have been to write it in a mere 500 words. Really a good exercise for the writers!

  2. Ranjana May 30, 2012 at 7:12 am

    Its a very interesting! Happy to learn a new word and will definitely try to write one.

  3. Anna Bin Liu June 1, 2012 at 3:34 am

    The example is very good and wording is smooth and mature. But I somehow doubt if a 500-word passage covering all five dimensions is sufficient to tell the whole picture of one’s life story with technology. Besides, maybe there is little or no transition between paragraphs discussing about different aspects, especially there is no connection between paragraph 4 (mobile phone over pager) and 5 (a respectable Missile Man). It’s a pity that these paragraphs do not qualify to be seen as a whole. Anyway, it is not the author’s fault; it is truly a challenge to cover all five dimensions within merely 500 words. Maybe a better plan in advance or covering only two or three of them can tell us a better story.

    After all, good job and a nice start to work on!

    • Gurpreet Singh June 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm

      Hi Anna,

      Thanks for your comment. I think that my prof wanted to make us think about minimalism and conciseness as well. I had written 1200 words and then keep on editing so that they can fit in the 500 word limit. It was fun though!

  4. Srivalli June 5, 2012 at 3:39 am

    Interesting post, Gurpreet. Yes, these terms are new to me and I will write each of these autobiographies. I’m sure it that would be a great experience. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. Faizan Mashruwala September 5, 2015 at 2:56 am

    Hello Gurpreet,
    I was curious to know about the term “Technical Autobiography” and wanted some clear points about what to write and how to write it.
    this article help to understand the important points to include in technical writing.
    your experience really help me.
    Thanks for sharing.

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